Avid football fans will relate to some of my most iconic memories of watching football. Zidane’s wonder goal against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League Finals; “Original” Ronaldo finally laying to rest the ghosts of France ’98 and powering Brazil to a fifth World Cup title; Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick in the Manchester derby that won the Premier League best goal of its first 20 years; and sadly, the collapse and eventual death of Cameroonian powerhouse Marc-Vivien Foe during Cameroon’s 2003 Confederations Cup semifinal match against Colombia. It was a moment that shocked the football world.
Football players are uber-fit and exceedingly active, so seeing one slump and die at the prime of their life, in the middle of an activity that brings so much joy to millions around the world was a difficult event to process. Sadly, Foe’s collapse wasn’t the last of that sad occurrence.
On March 2017, Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed in the middle of an FA Cup game between Tottenham and Bolton and was effectively dead for 76 minutes. Through excellent work by medical professionals on the pitch and later in the hospital, he was transferred to save his life and miraculously, they ensured he didn’t suffer any brain damage. Cheick Tiote wasn’t so lucky. About two weeks ago, on June 5th, during a routine training session at his club Beijing Enterprises in China, Tiote collapsed and despite being rushed to a hospital, passed away. Tributes immediately started pouring in from all over the football world. Premier League fans and Newcastle fans especially, will remember THAT goal he scored against Arsenal during Newcastle’s famous comeback from four nil down at half-time against Arsenal in 2011. Tiote was known for his tenacity and strength and at just thirty, his death has come as a huge shock.
Among the tributes was a tweet by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to express their condolence as well as a short statement. Since then, there has been nothing. During the last round of African Nations’ Cup qualifiers, there was not even the observance of a minute of silence in memory of the lost player to the sport, the standard tribute normally practised in football. It felt like a letdown as Herve Renard, a former coach of Tiote’s home country of Cote d’Ivoire lamented. Tiote was an African Champion – he won the Nations Cup with Cote d’Ivoire in 2015 – and has been effectively a representative of African football to the world and it is sad that CAF hasn’t thought it fit to at least honour him. CAF doesn’t have a good track record with previous instances.
In 2010, CAF made the incredulous decision to suspend Togo from the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola and then ban them from the next two competitions after Togo pulled out of the Cup because the team was attacked – and some members of the entourage, killed – while in Angola. Togo goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilalé, who was severely injured in the attack and had to retire from football, is on record to have complained about CAF’s complete neglect of him during his recovery.
This cannot continue. It is an indictment on Africa, not just CAF alone if situations like this continue to occur. CAF needs countries and their players to be able to successfully organise its numerous competitions and it needs to do better to take care and appreciate the efforts of these players.